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Waiting in front of Big Box Waiting in front of Big Box 2004103001.jpg
We all were told to meet in front of Big Box at around 9:00 in the morning, so we did just that. I was the first one there and stood up on the top of those stairs for a while until some more people showed up. It was drizzling a little bit and was sort of chilly, but other than that it was okay. Nobody was really sure what was going to happen during our trip, so everyone was kind of... not really nervous, but not too sure they wanted to really go, I guess.
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Lions banner Lions banner 2004103002.jpg
The Lions is the local baseball team that everyone in the area roots for, and they won the Japan Series! You can't go anywhere without seeing Lions banners and posters up all over the place. But hey, they've got a really cool mascot, so I don't mind seeing it all the time!
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Matt's suit Matt's suit 2004103003.jpg
Matt decided to wear his awesome suit to the resort, which is the same suit he wore on his trip over to Japan. He looks ready to go. *laughs*
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Mountains 1 Mountains 1 2004103004.jpg
On our way to Karuizawa, we passed through a lot of mountains with breathtaking views. This (as well as the following two pictures) were taken at a rest stop in Ueno, I think.
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Mountains 2 Mountains 2 2004103005.jpg
More mountains. I'm pretty sure our bus is the one on the far right (I think I can see Rob's incredible height standing in the doorway). And yes, buses here open on the other side. Why? Because you drive on the other side of the road!

The light sculpture on the left looks cool too, I think.
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Mountains 3 Mountains 3 2004103006.jpg
And... more mountains! There were mountains all over the place, but that really only makes sense since Japan is essentially a mountain range sticking out of the ocean. These twin peaks were shot from the inside of the bus through the window; if you look closely, you can see reflections on the glass. Ooh.
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Arriving at the lodge Arriving at the lodge 2004103007.jpg
After about three hours on the bus, we finally made it to the Karuizawa lodge in Nagano. This is a shot down a long path to some stairs that lead to a soccer field. It hadn't started raining yet, and it was cold enough to see your breath. The clouds on the top of the mountain were really cool.
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Playing tongues Playing tongues 2004103008.jpg
Before your gutterminds start jumping to conclusions, allow me to explain. First of all, this was the room in which my group of about ten guys stayed for the night. The room was filled with tatami mats and sliding doors, and there was no heating except for a small space heater on the far end. We spread out a blanket so we could pick up cards easier as we played a slightly modified version of the great game Spoons: since we had no spoons, the last person to stick their tongue out upon getting a four-of-a-kind lost. It was hard, though, because you had to check to see whose tongue was out last, and after three or four rounds we kind of gave up. We would have used cell phones, but people thought they would be too hard to reach... and later we used the ace cards, but they got bent up. It was fun while it lasted, though.

While you couldn't see your breath in this room usually, you could in the hallways. Good stuff.
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After-dinner party After-dinner party 2004103009.jpg
After dinner, we had a group discussion about our host families and our experience in Japan thus far in general. Then there was a party with all sorts of snacks and drinks. As I often do, I just had to snap a picture or two of people having fun. ^__^
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Jinbei's pumpkin Jinbei's pumpkin 2004103010.jpg
Jinbei and a few others busted out the pumpkins (actually, pumpkin halves...) and made some Jack-O-Lanterns. Minus the lantern, of course. One guy used a coat hanger to scoop out the insides of his half-pumpkin... quite amusing if I do say so myself!
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Cheesy group shot Cheesy group shot 2004103011.jpg
Unfortunately, this picture turned out a little blurry, but it's still okay. Why is it cheesy? Well, we all look like goofs. But aside from that, Suzie and I are eating these little strips of cheese and dried cod, which were really yummy. If I remember correctly, Wade has some squid jerky in his hands, which was also yummy.

They sound weird, but these fishy snack foods are actually tasty and aren't any weirder than pork rinds or nachos. I still am freaked out about pork rinds, though. o_O;;
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Pocky wars Pocky wars 2004103012.jpg
During our first rest stop on the way to the lodge (during which I didn't get any pictures), some guys went out and bought these inflatable Pocky... things. They were totally nuts: they flew through the air like magic, they sounded metallic when you smacked them together, and you could hit people with them and they wouldn't feel a thing. We think they were filled with carbon dioxide or something, because they sure didn't act like "normal" oxygen balloons.

Here, Wade and Aaron clash swords in the ultimate POCKY WARS!!!
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Piling up the futons Piling up the futons 2004103101.jpg
We woke up at 7:30 to the sound of some very wake-up-y music playing through speakers we had no idea were there, and after breakfast we cleaned up our futons. Here you can see a little bit of the mess we made.

I thought it was going to be super-cold there... but these futons are AMAZINGLY warm. I actually didn't sleep with the full load piled on top of me... I would have been too hot otherwise! I swear, you could probably sleep outside in the snow on a futon and you'd be toasty. Well, maybe not for TOO long, but you know what I mean.
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Pocky Ninja Pocky Ninja 2004103102.jpg
Aaron has mastered the dark arts of the Pocky Ninja. The only time you see these guys is right before they impale you with a giant inflatable Pocky... thing. I'm alive today because I was looking the other way while my camera flashed on its own.

Okay, not really. I thought it was amusing, though.
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On top of the stairs On top of the stairs 2004103103.jpg
This is a shot looking from the top of this staircase that we saw when we first drove into the lodge. Off to the left is where our cabins were. Awesome view.
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Soccer field 1 Soccer field 1 2004103104.jpg
On top of those stiars there was a soccer field that was pretty large... maybe it was two smooshed toegether. Got a shot looking left...
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Soccer field 2 Soccer field 2 2004103105.jpg
...and another looking left. Pretty empty now, but that's amazing in itself. Wide open space in Japan with nobody in it? Unheard of!
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Bears, oh my Bears, oh my 2004103106.jpg
Gotta watch out for them bears and wild boars. They sneak up on you when you least expect it. o_O;
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Through the woods Through the woods 2004103107.jpg
Wade and I went walking through the deep woods after breakfast, and we got to see some awesome sights like this and the pictures that follow. Wade's a great guy... too bad he'll be leaving in December.
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